After a hot yesterday, the stars were popping out. There would be no moon until much later. So what should it be? Observe Saturn in the 10″? Learn a new constellation using the 5″ (it’s a more nimble cruiser)? Lie back and look for early Perseids?
I started with item 1. Saturn is long past opposition, and by 9 pm it is already westering. I lined up in a twilight sky, but, instead of floating in its usual serenity, Saturn was stretching and contracting like a gelatinous invertebrate, and even appearing to twist itself in figures-of-eight. The heat of the day was still radiating from every surface, and the resulting turbulent air currents were making the planet unobservable. Waiting, waiting: the Space Station whipped across the sky, brilliant and silent in its borrowed light. Waiting, waiting: the earth cooled as the sky darkened, but Saturn sank inexorably into the hedge, still gyrating.
Item 2: Learn a new constellation. For this purpose the 5″ is better, but it was already late and I didn’t have the energy to get out another telescope. So I hastily skimmed a star chart and aimed the lumbering Dob at Ophiuchus, starting with the obvious stars. I picked out the main pattern, and at one point found a most beautiful double star – one brilliant gold, with a subtle purple partner. I then clumsily knocked the scope out of position before I had established my double star’s identity, and couldn’t find my way back.
Item 3: Look for early Perseids. I packed up the 10″, running with water from a heavy dew, and settled into my garden chair with a blanket against a now chilly breeze. Pegasus lay before me, the necessary Perseus rising to my left. I scanned dutifully, and saw never a Perseid, only one random meteor which perversely flew with a silent fizz in the opposite direction. In the small hours hush I listened to the local stream running with an oddly dry rattle and crepitation, and in half an hour was gone. A hundred meteors may have burst over my unconscious head, but I saw nothing. I lurched, drunken with sleep, to my bed.